Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Essence of Leadership - How to make responsible choices. Great leaders create leaders, not followers.

I believe greed is the single biggest problem we face as a society today. It is at the root of so many of the problems—from a broken political system, to a dysfunctional family structure, and everything in between. Greed has permeated organizations from youth sports teams to Fortune 100 companies. CEOs and politicians have been sentenced to prison, professional athletes are more juiced than Florida, and youth sports coaches and parents have twisted Vince Lombardi’s pep talks into an impossible standard for the players.

How do we, either individually or collectively, avoid the trap of compromising our core values when pursuing our goals? The answer, of course, is by focusing on behavior.

One of the many fallouts of any top-down-driven organization is the “I say, you do” approach to expectations. When that approach is applied, it influences everything the company does. Far too often, this mindset leads to organizational failure.
Athletic teams are judged by their wins and losses as obvious indicators of success or failure. Business organizations are benchmarked by profitability and are often victims of a lack of commitment to their own standards of excellence. One might argue that financial considerations define the end game.
The bigger issue is understanding how this lack of commitment to a standard of excellence does not compromise your core values. Where does it come from, who owns it, and is it doable?

The obsession with winning at all costs and personal greed puts so much strain on organizations for quarterly earnings that Wall Street has become the ultimate decision maker on what is acceptable performance. Frankly, Wall Street doesn’t care about anything except profits. You need to safeguard your people and your organization by making certain everyone is focused on behaviors that reflect the standards of excellence.

There is plenty of effort put toward the strategic planning process, financial modeling, and objective setting. Far too often, an organization’s goal is a top-down-driven number that is arrived at by financial analysts charged with growing the stock price and, eventually, management compensation.

During my visit to Texas, Vince and Charley taught me about “ownership.” They said if people own a little bit of the action and if they have some skin in the game, they treat the standards of excellence much differently. These standards now become their goal, their objective, their opportunity, and ultimately their victory. That simple piece of advice led me to the conclusion that great leaders create leaders, not followers.
The deeper you can drive leadership into an organization, the greater the chance you’ll be successful. Leadership is more than a title or a designation.

We must displace the belief that leadership is the unwanted burden of the self-serving, dishonest, power-hungry elite we described earlier, and replace it with an inspired acceptance that the gift of leadership is our most basic birthright.
The essence of leadership is about making responsible choices.
Leadership belongs to all of us.

Over time, I began to realize that it was virtually impossible to expect people to accept the responsibility of leadership unless their environment encouraged and acknowledged their efforts. I struggled with how to communicate this much-needed sense of ownership (leadership) among our employees. I questioned what role leaders should play in creating an environment where employees take responsibility for success and failure, not only for their respective work groups, but more importantly, for themselves and each other.

Leaders need to be more like a teacher than a boss. Leaders have to help employees confront difficult questions, issues, and challenges as they seek the right answers. By focusing on behavior, leaders create an environment in which candidness, courage, and caring about the company become every employee’s responsibility. As leaders, we must help our employees find within themselves the courage and clarity to lead others. This is central to organizational success.
Ultimately, we realized creating that ideal environment had to start with us. It had to be demonstrated by our leadership team before we could expect the rest of the organization to do the same.



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